Killings in Košice: Was it the ostrich Mafia?

Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction. Just look at the Košice Zoo, where an ostrich and two mouflon were shot and killed in July in an attack the zoo director blamed on a rival ring of "ostrich entrepreneurs." On the night of July 14, intruders broke into the Zoological Garden just north of the city. Once inside, they pumped three bullets into a female sheep, finished off her three-month-old with a single shot, and shot an ostrich before being startled by a guard. The chief of police for Košice's northern sector said that his department is on the sheep shooting case, but the zoo has yet to file a report on the ostrich incident.

Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction. Just look at the Košice Zoo, where an ostrich and two mouflon were shot and killed in July in an attack the zoo director blamed on a rival ring of "ostrich entrepreneurs."

On the night of July 14, intruders broke into the Zoological Garden just north of the city. Once inside, they pumped three bullets into a female sheep, finished off her three-month-old with a single shot, and shot an ostrich before being startled by a guard. The chief of police for Košice's northern sector said that his department is on the sheep shooting case, but the zoo has yet to file a report on the ostrich incident.

"Although I haven't received an official report, I went to the scene of the crime, and it looked pretty serious," he deadpanned. He said that the avar autopsy found no bullets in the feathered corpse. Instead, the autopsy report listed the cause of death as a scratch on the neck, likely the path of a bullet but maybe a brush with a barbed-wire fence. After all, the bird was no spring chicken. "After studying the autopsy records of the ostrich," the police chief said, "it is safe to conclude that that bird should have been in an old folks home."

Scent of controversy

As if the whole scene wasn't bizarre enough, Pavel Mihalík, the director of the Košice Zoo, insisted that the killers are linked to some kind of ostrich Mafia. "I believe the reason was a settling of accounts between private businessmen who deal in ostriches," he told the daily Nový Čas. And as for the slain mouflon, Mihalík added, "from my point of view, it was a coverup."

The zoo had borrowed its ostriches (including the recently deceased), from an unnamed private businessman to see whether the zoo could support them. The Košice zoo, Mihalík explained, wanted 5-10 African ostriches. "They attract a lot of visitors," Mihalík said.

Exotic attractions like African ostriches, however, don't come cheap. The bird in question was valued at 250,000 Sk ($8,300), but now that it is dead the zoo only owes the owner 3,000 Sk ($100). To keep the killers from striking again, the zoo has asked the city to step up security measures; however, the police cannot investigate the case until the zoo files an official report on the ostrich.

The menagerie murders are not a new occurrence in Košice or elsewhere in Slovakia. Mihalík said the zoo has had two similar incidents. In one, a guard dog was killed; in the other, intruders tried to steal deer, probably for food.

The capital city also has seen its share of violence. Four years ago, someone broke into the Bratislava zoo and killed several antelopes, which Renáta Molcánová, a veterinarian there, called a student prank. The group Sloboda Zvierat, or Freedom for Animals, said that a tigress was shot by employees of Bratislava's zoo when she should have been tranquilized.

But the Košice killings seem the strangest of all. "I've visited lots of zoos all over the world," Mihalík said, "and I've never heard of anything like this."

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